I Spy Campaign 2014: ‘Gotcha’ Politics or Business as Usual?
Parties allege dirty tricks while acknowledging that secret recordings are par for the course. (For complete 2014 midterm coverage, get your campaign fix on The Grid.)
August 9, 2014 - 12:03 am
“If there are any Republican interns in the audience, I want them to get their spyglasses and video recorders ready. Mark Schauer will be at the podium in just a few minutes,” State House Rep. Brandon Dillon (D-Mich.) said at a campaign rally in Grand Rapids, Mich., on July 27.
Michigan Democrats refuse to let go of the story of GOP interns wearing glasses equipped with sound and video recorders at Democratic candidate fundraisers.
Darren Littell, the communications director for the Michigan GOP, told MLive.com that Michigan Democrats should hold off throwing rocks from their glass house.
“I think Dems are being hypocritical with their (spygate) criticism. It’s clear they’re doing the exact same thing,” Littell said.
And he has proof.
Littell gave MLive.com two videos of Kevin Hrit, described as a “political operative,” telling a group of Democratic Party activists about the necessity of an “accountability project.”
Hrit, who was not employed by the Michigan Democratic Party at the time, can be heard on the video saying that it would help party candidates if the activists in Michigan’s 11th Congressional District could “get them (Republicans) on tape talking about the things they believe.”
“It’s no longer gotcha politics…it’s literally just that the things they talk about behind closed doors are so radically different than the things that we talk about behind closed doors,” Hrit said on the video published by MLive.
Michigan Democrats said there is nothing wrong with the practice known as “tracking,” where operatives are sent to opponents’ public events to record every word a candidate says, looking for inside information and the occasional, embarrassing slip-up.
But Frank Houston, the chairman of the Oakland County Democratic Party in suburban Detroit, told The Detroit News the tracking incident that made national news in July was different because the Republicans snuck into a fundraiser inside a private home, using false names.
“What is new about this is they’re acting like they’re in Mission Impossible or James Bond or something and trying to do it on the fly. That’s the line that seems to be getting crossed here,” Houston said.
On the other side of the spy-aisle, John M. Howting, the deputy director of the Michigan Republican Party, could be the state GOP’s own Inspector Gadget.
Howting is shown on a video obtained by the Michigan Democratic Party, and broadcast by MSNBC July 22, wearing high-tech eyeglasses with which he is recording Michigan Democratic Party functions.
Josh Pugh, communications director for the Michigan Democratic Party, said Howting’s video recordings were left behind at a Democratic event in suburban Detroit, and include spy-training segments at Republican headquarters where young GOP operatives are shown learning the finer points of deception and using the glasses that contained video cameras.
The video also shows that it is not easy being a political spy. The Republican undercover agents are shown having trouble with their high-tech video recording glasses.
At one point, they left the camera rolling as they plotted ways to fool Democratic candidates, revealed their secret identities, and took repeated trips to various bathrooms.
The video was shot by the GOP operatives inside a private home at a fundraiser for Mark Schauer, the Democrats’ gubernatorial candidate.
One of the operatives is seen telling a partner that one of the women at the party is “starting to creep her out” because she was asking how the undercover Republicans got into the fundraiser.
Pugh also said the raw footage for the first time links a Rick Snyder-Republican spy operation targeting Schauer and other Democrats to a Michigan GOP operative with ties to conservative activist James O’Keefe.
O’Keefe produced secretly recorded undercover audio and videotapes of meetings with officials in a variety of organizations, like ACORN and NPR.